Wednesday, 30 September 2009

nobody's perfect

To finish this teacher's voice on teaching and learning, I would like to be sure I've made peace with all the readers who might have felt insecure when reading the previous entry.

Foreign language is a particular kind of tool.

Take for example some of the instruments you might need at work: typically, the better the instrument, the better the outcome. A graphic designer needs professional software to produce a high-quality website layout. A neurosurgeon will call for a sharp and sterile scalpel, or better a high-tech microsurgical laser scalpel, to be more precise. Even your kids will soon claim that in order to communicate with friends they must have at their disposal a state-of-the-art cell phone. Striving for perfection of tools is omnipresent.

Unlike other instruments, your second language does not have to be perfect to be used.
Or, in other words, you don’t have to know all the structures and vocab to start speaking, reading and writing. And it’s a bad news for all the perfectionists: you can only improve your command of foreign language when you use it, imperfect as it is. There’s definitely no other way.

You can start practicing with writing comments here. I've changed the settings so that this option is now available for everybody.

make peace - pogodzić się
insecure - niepewny/ie
entry - tu: notatka
layout - szablon, makieta
state of the art - najnowoczęsniejszy
striving for perfection - dążenie do doskonałości
omniprsent - wszechobecne
in other words - innymi słowy
definitely - zdecydowanie, z pewnością

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

past tense, future perfect

Right, every learner is a unique human being and he or she brings into classroom all of those magnificent things about him or her, but I can’t resist the temptation of trying to divide these unique creatures I meet into certain categories. I wonder where you would place yourself, if you were asked to.

ELEMENTARY FOREVER – always chooses the safe beginner path. The one who starts everything from scratch, hoping this time he/she’ll get it right. Never beyond simple present and continuous, with the tendency to use them even while talking about what he/she did two years ago. At the point of departure, already left with no self-confidence.

INTERMEDATE EVER AFTER – he/she thinks his/her English is not so good ("It probably might be better, but somehow, it’s clumsy and probably predestined to remain so"). She/he knows present perfect and has heard everything about it, but when it comes to use it, she/he always ponders: “is that the right moment?” Usually the answer is “yes!” and present perfect pops up in every sentence, just in case, to impress the teacher.

Has anybody seen an upper-intermediate? – this category is most often blank. In language schools, learners are labeled upper-intermediate because nobody knows what to do with them once they’ve completed the “intermediate” level.

How advanced am I? – He/she knows they know much. They have heard of most of the structures and can use them. But what worries them most of all is the question: “am I advanced enough?” Relax, take it easy, learn vocab, learn about the world in English, too – they should be reassured.

And last, but not least, there is a Student Always Wanted. A SAW knows learning is a process. A SAW knows he has already learnt something and is ready to ask for more. A SAW can say why he/she wants to learn and motivation is 75 % success.

A SAW is open-minded and believes in, as Zadie Smith wrote in her White Teeth, “past tense, future perfect”. What you expect is, most often, where you end up.

him or her [lub him/her], he or she - the politically correct way to refer to an individual regardless of sex
resist the temptation - oprzec się pokusie
path /pa:θ/- ścieżka, droga
start from scratch /skræt∫/- zaczynać od nowa, od zera
the point of departure - punkt wyjścia
self-confidence - wiara w siebie
clumsy - niezgrabny
is predestined to - jest mu przeznaczone
ponder - rozmyslać
pop up - pojawiać się
blank - pusty
label - etykietować, szufladkować

and remember that
a saw /so:/ means also: piła
and tense means also - napięty, "past tense" tutaj: przeszłość pełna napięć

Monday, 28 September 2009


September. Your kids off to school and kindergarten. You had your share in the preparations for the school year: you inhaled the smell of brand new notebooks and spent half of your income on textbooks. Including English textbooks, especially pricey.
Then you remembered your school and academic years. Your courses, your note-making, reading, writing, learning. And perhaps also your resolutions: to improve your foreign language skills, to do it this year, to revise and learn a small portion every single day, yeah, surely that'll work this time.
I, as a teacher, love September and October. I get prepared, I get ready to instruct. It feels like lining up at the start of the 100 metres sprint, or better, a hurdle race, a marathon.
But as a learner, I make resolutions, too. I'll learn five new words in French every day. No, say, I'll learn them every other day, because I'll also learn five new German words in the meantime. And Russian? Russian on Saturdays.
Then I find out it's difficult to count on my own self. I forget, I'm too tired or too lazy to learn anything in my free time. But if someone just GAVE ME the opportunity - why not?
So that's what it's meant to be, this M-Teacher's "blogging".
To give you the opportunity.

inhale /ın'heıl/- wdychać
brand new - całkiem nowy
pricey /'praısı/- infml drogi
a resolution - postanowienie
to line up the the start - stanąć na starcie
hurdle race /'hзdl reıs/- bieg przez płotki
say - tu: powiedzmy
every other day - co drugi dzień